300 minutes or less: Fifteen short games worth your time

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With the hectic pace of the modern world, more and more I hear people say "I don't have time to play video games anymore". A tragic thing indeed. But not every game needs to be a sprawling epic. A lot of games in recent years have been making the most of shorter runtimes, and are often all the better for it.

It should be noted that while there are many rogue-likes that can be finished in this time, most people aren't going to see them through to the end on their first run, so I won't be including any of those.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here's fifteen short games worth playing that won't take you more than 5 hours from start to finish, assuming you're not the completionist sort.

Portal

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 3 hours

You already knew it was coming, right? I couldn't very well make the list without it, so I thought I'd get it out of the way early. I doubt Portal is a game that really needs any introduction at this point, but just in case, here's the run down.

Basically, you have a gun, it makes portals, you solve puzzles by launching yourself and other objects through said portals, and at the end of it all there will be cake. It's pretty hilarious and if you don't enjoy it you probably don't have a soul. Just kidding, kind of.

Amazingly Portal 2 managed to improve upon the game in almost every way, no mean feat. Thankfully this improvement extended to the game's length, which is why it is Portal and not its sequel making an appearance on this list, but both come highly recommended.

Freedom Planet

Platforms: PC, Wii U
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4.5 hours

Freedom Planet is a love letter to the fast-paced action-platformers of days gone by, i.e. the Sonic game you've been wanting since Sonic & Knuckles that Sega could never deliver.

While the story is pretty standard fare and I can't imagine the cheesy dialogue appealing to many, the gameplay is simply outstanding. Levels have been well designed to facilitate speed, with plenty of alternate routes to deviate along, while boss battles are generally challenging and engaging. There's also several characters to choose from, each with their own little differences, to mix up the action and add some replayability. This is all perfectly complimented by the games beautiful pixel art visuals.

This has to be one of the best games this genre has to offer, and with a sequel currently in development, it's a series I personally hope to see more of.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4.5 hours

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, as its name suggests, came about as a standalone DLC for Far Cry 3, and was, in my opinion, a lot more fun.

Blood Dragon basically takes all the best bits from Far Cry 3, drowns it in a gaudy, retro, neon aesthetic, and then ramps up the pace to maximum levels. From the very get-go you'll be obliterating goons with gatling guns and blowing up bases; the carnage is relentless, and it's glorious. Like Far Cry 3, there's also outposts to capture, collectibles to find and such like things, which can extend the game to almost double its length. 

If you're still not sold, there's a button reserved solely for giving the middle finger, and you get to fight giant neon dinosaurs (sorry, Blood Dragons) that shoot laser beams from their heads, what more do you want?

Grow Home

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 3 hours

Grow Home isn't your typical gaming experience; your only real enemy is gravity and your only goals are to explore, grow and climb.

As the player, you'll control B.U.D., a procedurally animated robot who, as a result, is a tad clumsy in his movements. You'll have control of his upper limbs, allowing you to climb the stalk of a giant plant which you'll have to grow until it reaches the stars, where your spaceship awaits. You do this by riding offshoots into nearby floating islands, from which the plant will draw energy, allowing it to grow higher.

For all the collectible seekers out there, there's also enough to search for and discover to considerably lengthen your time with Grow Home. There's something incredibly soothing about the whole experience, it's the perfect game for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A warning though, for my fellow inverted brethren, you either have to invert both axis' (who does that?) or none. As you can imagine, this can lead to some frustration and may confuse your brain when trying to go back to normal afterwards, but it's worth it. There's fewer games that exhibit greater charm than Grow Home.

The Stanley Parable

Platform: PC
Approximate time to finish the main game
: ???

The Stanley Parable is another one of those games you're probably already quite familiar with, and if not, to describe it in detail would be to ruin the experience -- and it is an experience.

The game explores the theme of narrative in gaming, and what happens when you decide to break the rules. You can 'beat' the game in 10 minutes, or 15 minutes, or 30 minutes; and yet, 2 hours later, you'll still be playing, you'll still be laughing, and you'll still be discovering new endings.

The Stanley Parable did something different, and it did it by being funny, clever and intriguing. I can only complain about its somewhat hefty price tag, but that's what Steam sales are for, right?

To the Moon

Platforms: PC
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4 hours

To the Moon is a rare thing indeed, a game that manages, despite its limitations, to evoke genuine emotion in the player. I won't deny, I was a little choked up come the end credits.

Those seeking thrilling gameplay should look elsewhere, To the Moon is very much a story driven experience, but it's a story worth telling. You'll play the role of Dr's Wyatt and Rosaleane, who recreate the memories of dying patients to help them live out experiences they never got to fulfill in life, if only in their minds. Memories are often messy things, however, and it will take a little detective work to piece together this particular patients troubled past.

I'm not sure any amount of writing about it or watching trailers like the one above will do justice the heartfelt experience of actually playing the game.

Jazzpunk

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 2.5 hours

Jazzpunk has got to be the most ridiculous game I've ever played; it's pure batshit, goofy, insanity. The offbeat humour proves to be the games biggest strength, and possibly the only reason for its existence; it's an undeniably unique experience.

So besides hilarious, what is Jazzpunk? How do I describe it? Ehh... well, you're like this agent guy who has to complete missions, kiss homeless people and engage in pillow fights. Oh, and there's a cat simulator and a wedding themed mini-game parody of Quake. Oh yeah, and the game ends inside a crocodile man's intestines; all pretty standard stuff really.

If you're still confused about what Jazzpunk actually is, maybe this live action trailer for the game will explain it a little better than I can:

That clear it all up for you? Okay, good.

Super Time Force Ultra

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4.5 hours

If you've ever wondered what Cher meant when she sang:

If I could turn back time
If I could find a way
I would have shot up those red barrells
To blow those pesky enemies away

She was almost definitely talking about Super Time Force Ultra (referred to from this point on as STFU), the souped up version of the already good and previously Xbox exclusive Super Time Force.

You ever played a game where you died and thought, "damn, if only there was 3 more me's to help me out"? Well that's basically what STFU is all about. You run, you shoot, you die, you rewind, you run, you jump, you shoot, you run a little more, you die, you rewind. Throw some characters with unique abilities into the mix, like say, a deployable shield that will protect you, and however many rewinded replica's you have running about that the time, and things get pretty interesting. And chaotic.

The game is a blast and is bursting with humour, plus there's loads of characters to unlock and challenges to complete outside the main story missions. It also has a cool Super Meat Boy-esque end of level replay system where you can rewatch all your many you's unleashing carnage. The best part is, if you happen to be a devoted PS+ member, you should already have access to it.

Papers, Please

Platforms: PC (a PlayStation Vita version is in the works)
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4.5 hours

There's flight simulators, walking simulators, and then there's Papers, Please, a dystopian, Soviet Union inspired, immigration desk jockey simulator.

No really, that is the core gameplay mechanic, you check peoples documents, make sure it all checks out, and permit or deny them entry to the fictional country of Arstotzka based on your inspection. That probably doesn't sound like much fun, I'm not sure "fun" is the right word to describe the game, but it is surprisingly rewarding.

Papers, Please isn't just a fancy spot the different though, things get unpredictably hectic as time goes on and more restrictions are put in place. Your desk becomes cluttered by more and more paperwork, all the while you're on the clock to meet quotas, or you may find some of your pay getting docked.

Thats the other side of Papers, Please, if you don't bring home enough money, your family suffers. Not only are you trying to keep them alive, you'll regularly be faced with moral decisions that affect others too. There's a surprising level of depth to be had within what is a strange yet ingeniously simple concept.

Gunpoint

Platforms: PC
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 3 hours

Gunpoint genuinely surprised me. I went into it expecting nothing more than a side-scrolling version of Hotline Miami, I was wrong. Well, actually I was right, that's pretty much what it is, except it's also steeped in an unexpectedly stylish noir atmosphere, with great writing and an interesting puzzle mechanic embedded into levels.

You see it's not all about bursting through doors and beating guards to a pulp, shortly into the game you'll be introduced to a handy tool called the crosslink. Through it you can rewire electrical components on the same circuit.

Suddenly that motion detector becomes a trigger to open a previously locked door. Suddenly you can fry a guard in one building by flicking a lightswitch in another. It's a great mechanic and adds a further layer of complexity to levels beyond just trying to work out how to knock out a guard before he shoots you in the face.

There's also a pretty good story happening between levels, where you can also purchase upgrades and abilities to take on your next mission. The whole thing is complimented by a wonderfully appropriate soundtrack to round off what is a thoroughly satisfying experience.

The Beginner's Guide

Platforms: PC
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 1.5 hours

The Beginner's Guide shares a lot of similarities with The Stanley Parable, which makes sense since the former was created by one of the minds behind the latter. Both are clever, unique experiences that have something to say.

With that being said, they're also complete opposites in many ways. The most notable difference comes in their focus. The Beginner's Guide isn't so much about the player but the creator, and you realise that the whole thing is a deeply introspective piece of work for Davey Wreden, who not only made the game, but narrates it. That's also the biggest link between the two games, because one seems to be about the experience of creating the other. That probably doesn't make sense, but it might if you've played them both.

The game hits suprisingly hard, and left me with a heavy weight in my chest; I was still thinking about it for some time after the credits had rolled. Any game that can have that effect is surely worth playing through?

If the game piques your interest I would definitely recommend playing The Stanley Parable first, if you haven't already. I found that as a consequence of playing that game, it affected my decisions in The Beginners Guide; I was always looking for ways to defy the narrator. I'm not sure if this was coincidental or something intended on Wreden's part, but I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

SteamWorld Dig

Platforms: PC, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 5 hours

By most peoples standards the act of digging would probably be considered a chore, but there's just something about SteamWorld Dig that makes it inexplicably engaging.

Gathering ore provides resources to buy better equipment so you can gather even more ore; it's an oddly satisfying cycle. It's not all digging of course. Set to the backdrop of a robotic western, there's platforming elements and some nifty abilities to help you through them too. Despite the dangers posed by the depths, the game manages to have a relaxing quality about it.

The franchise has since deviated in an unexpected direction with the release of turn-based strategy game SteamWorld Heist, but is by all accounts just as enjoyable.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4 hours

I think The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the first game that actually made me stop playing in awe of the scenic beauty of its game environments just so I could capture a screenshot. Fortunately it has a lot more going for it besides just having gorgeous visuals.

As supernatural detective Paul Prospero, it's your job to piece together the mystery of Ethan Carter's disappearance after the boy in question writes to you for help. That job title doesn't just imply investigation of the supernatural however, as it seems Mr. Prospero has some otherworldy powers of his own. By touching certain objects, you can view its memory of the events surrounding it. You'll then have to place these memories in the correct sequence in order to understand just what took place.

It's a well written and intriguing story with some nice puzzles peppered in between travelling through the game's incredible vistas. The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter actually sums itself up pretty nicely with its opening line:

"This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand."

Attack Of The Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale

Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 3 hours

If I was asked to describe Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale in a single word, I would say "pleasant." A simple word for a simple game. There's nothing challenging or taxing about the experience, it's just a peaceful, relaxing jaunt through a sweet, charming tale that perfectly captures the spirit of childhood. There's a very Ghibli vibe going on here.

The gameplay consists soley of exploring town, talking to people, collecting glims, or playing cards. It's a simple rock, paper, scissors style affair where the victor gets to cast a silly 'spell' (which you can customise the dance to, of course) that will make your opponents fall over.

That's what so great about Attack of the Friday Monsters, the way it shows the world from a child's perspective. Our character, Sohta, notices all the things the adults in his world don't pick up on, and yet, being a child, he can't fully make sense of it all. Of course we as the player know better, and the way it's all presented is what makes Attack of the Friday Monsters shine.

The Fall

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U
Approximate time to finish the main game
: 4 hours

The Fall is a somewhat strange mix of styles, best described as a side-scrolling point and click puzzle platformer. You have a gun too, and at times you'll need to use it, but it never becomes a central component to the game. Most of the time you'll be using it as a light source rather than a weapon. Although the controls are a tad clunky, they get the job done and don't hamper the experience.

Where the game really shines is in its story-telling and the daunting atmosphere in which it is set. The Fall tackles the subject of A.I. with a level of intelligence rarely seen in any medium, which is complimented perfectly by the dark, immersive, sci-fi atmosphere of the game. Combine that with clever writing, fantastic character development and some classic, adventure game puzzle solving, and you've got yourself a winner.

As the first part of an intended trilogy, and after the fantastic way it ends, I'm excited to see where developer Over The Moon go with the forthcoming episodes.

And so that concludes the list of short games worth your time. Hopefully you've seen some of your favorites or found a few new games to add to your wishlist.

Did I miss out any great, short games? Think a game on the list didn't deserve its place? Don't be shy about it, let us know in the comments below!

Published Apr. 29th 2016

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